PARIS: The Islamic State group has been eroded by international efforts to crush the militant group but its ability to mount devastating attacks on the West remains very real, defence and security experts say.
As France prepares to mark the first anniversary of the Paris attacks by the group on November 13, analysts say military defeats in its strongholds in Iraq and Syria will almost certainly not make its Western targets any safer.
“Depriving ISIS of control over population centres and sanctuary to raise funds and train fighters, and breaking it up as key organisation, matters,” said Anthony Cordesman of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), using another name for the group.
“Defeating it in any practical sense, however, will not begin to deal with the lasting threat,” he added.
It was in June 2014 that IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghadi proclaimed the creation of a caliphate in land the group had seized in Iraq and Syria and urged Muslims who shared the group’s vision to join them.
Thousands of foreigners answered his call, among them several French and Belgian men who would go on to slaughter 130 people in a Paris concert hall and at bars and restaurants.
The bloodshed in Paris contributed to strengthening the resolve of the West to fight IS.
A year on, Iraqi forces backed by the air power of the United States and countries including France are locked in fierce fighting to re-take Iraq’s second city of Mosul from the militant group.
On Sunday, a US-backed Kurdish and Arab force said it had begun an assault on the city of Raqqa, IS’s stronghold in Syria.
Recruits drying up
These military efforts have led to a sharp reduction in the number of foreigners making the trek to join IS forces in Iraq and Syria. The Pentagon says from 2,000 a month in early 2015, the figure is now just 200.
Tighter controls on the Turkish border – the main gateway to Syria – and improved surveillance by European intelligence have also helped stem the flow of foreign recruits.
The military onslaught on IS has also slowed the production of the slick, blood-drenched propaganda which has played a prominent role in attracting recruits.
The number of articles or videos posted online by the militants’ official media outlets dropped by 70 per cent, from 700 items in August 2015 to 200 a year later, according to a report by the Combating Terrorism Center (CTC) at the elite US West Point military academy.
The author of the report, Daniel Milton, said while IS’s main selling point was the creation of its self-proclaimed caliphate, it was now “struggling to maintain the appearance of a functioning state”.
Most experts agree, however, that crushing IS’s hopes of establishing the caliphate will not diminish its ability to launch attacks against the West.